It originated in ancient times as a performance to entertain the Shinto deities.
But when it comes to the martial arts, sumo is inextricably associated with Sumo wrestling. But how did it get started, and why is it still so popular? Read on for those answers and more. A shaky but violent Sumo wrestling The first mention of wrestling in a Japanese text was in the Nihon Shoki, one of the oldest books of the region's history, finished in the year Records of fights that roughly resemble today's sumo don't emerge until much later, in the medieval period.
Samurai, who often fought each other one-on-one, would learn wrestling techniques to help them in bouts. Organized fights for entertainment purposes, however, didn't come about until the early s. The transition from war to stable peace under the new Tokugawa regime left many samurai unemployed.
These masterless samurai ronin were bound to their own elite class and were not allowed to find work among the lower classes of merchants, artisans and peasants. Some ronin who found themselves in need of some cash would put on street-corner sumo matches for money. Meanwhile, other samurai fought in shrines or temples to pay for those shrines' renovations.
As a result, for decades the government tried to get sumo off the streets. Their first attempts in the s were met with little success, but they had Sumo wrestling bit more luck inwhen the shogunate decreed that even feudal lords daimyo were not allowed to hire wrestlers for entertainment.
Sumo didn't stop completely, but its practice dropped off precipitously for about 20 years. Making sumo legit So, how did a sport that the government once banned turn into a symbol of Japanese culture? The trick that enabled sumo's rise from the ashes was a deft melding of nationalism, organization and the Shinto religion.
The ban on sumo was lifted in after the government was convinced that the sport emphasized the philosophy and spirit of Shinto, an ancient Japanese religion formed from strands of local beliefs, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. So, associating sumo with what was widely accepted as the native religion was one hell of a PR stunt.
The concessions that promoters like Ikazuchi had to make, however, came in the form of new rules that all fighters would have to observe. These rules are now considered indelible to the sumo legacy. They included the creation of a dohyu, or ring, surrounding the fighting area, and a ban on particularly violent fighting techniques like teeth smashing and eye gouging.
The new regulations also called for the gyoji, or referee, to wear clothes that make the sport seem even more steeped in tradition than it is. The ref's cotton or silk getup is meant to resemble the clothes of a 12th century warrior, and those large wooden fans the gyoji carry gunbai are replicas of fans that samurai would use to signal messages to troops.
By connecting sumo with religion and Japanese history, its modern organizers instantaneously gave it a sense of heft and importance that propelled the sport forward. How do you become a hero?
Of course, no national sport would be complete without a little healthy idol worship. By the s, you could buy mechanical wind-up toys of the wrestlers on the street, and wrestlers also began to sell tegata, hand prints like the one pictured to the left.
The winners in the top division of fighters were well-respected, especially among the lower classes, but a vibrant hierarchy soon developed around them.
To get promoted to the elite position of yokozuna, a wrestler must win at least two tournaments in a row. But alongside the pride of being named to such a privileged spot there is also the expectation that the champion will continue winning.
If the yokozuna loses too much, he is forced into retirement. But whether you win or lose is also a big deal to the other sumo wrestlers.
At the end of each of the six annual tournaments, those with losing records get demoted and go down in salary; those with winning records move up in the ranks.
Even if the title of yokozuna is out of reach, being promoted to the top division, the Makuuchi, is an honor, plus it yields the best pay.
Consequently, sumo is taken a lot more serious than, say, the WWE, and not just because it's not staged.
These days, wrestlers enter training organizations, known as stables, in their early teens, and stay for the rest of their careers. Working your way up to the top of a stable, and then to the Makuuchi over the course of a successful career, is a marathon effort and a demanding challenge.
Even if some of the traditions associated with the bouts were generated inorganically, sumo is grounded in a sense of honor and merit. The modern-day rules were developed over the course of four centuries, but sumo gains a deserved legitimacy from its timeless nature.Great question, Eric!
Sumo is both an exhilarating sporting event and a fascinating cultural experience, and it’s worth going out of your way to attend a sumo tournament (basho) when you visit Japan.. The only problem for travelers is that the official tournaments only take place 6 times throughout the year, which means that for most travelers attending a basho ends up being impossible.
Online shopping from a great selection at Toys & Games Store. May 13, · Watch video · Yet Doreen Simmons found a remarkably different world to explore — as an expatriate sumo wrestling expert in Japan, analyzing matches in English for NHK, the country’s public broadcaster, for.
Sumo and other "standing" wrestling forms. Sumo allows only standing contest: as soon as one of Sumotories touches the dohyo by any part of the body except feet or if he/she moves beyond it, the match is announced over.
Buy a Ticket. Have you ever seen the “Sumo”? search now! Tickets of the tournament at Fukuoka can be purchased now!
The basic rules of sumo wrestling are described on this page.
Other links to sumo wrestling are available as well.